Women’s Med Center continues fight for waiver

The attorney for the Women’s Med Center in Kettering, the Dayton area’s lone abortion provider, argued that its operators have a legal plan to deal with emergencies during a hearing at the Ohio Department of Health in Columbus on Tuesday.

A 2013 Ohio licensing law mandates that ambulatory surgical facilities (ASFs) have transfer agreements with local hospitals in case of emergencies.

The Women’s Med Center has twice been turned down for a waiver to the regulation by Ohio Health Director Richard Hodges. Clinic officials claim there are three backup doctors available, all on-call physicians with admitting privileges to Miami Valley Hospital.

The law added to the 2013 budget bill has contributed to the closure of other Ohio clinics and in 2014 led a Sharonville facility to stop performing abortions.

“The written transfer agreement is a piece of paper with a hospital,” said Women’s Med attorney Jennifer Branch, as quoted by the Associated Press. “It’s just not a necessity to protect a patient’s health and the clinic has been operating just fine without one for the last 14 years.”

Hodges wrote in a letter responding to the center’s 2014 request for an exemption that the clinic’s plan did not offer the same protection “as it does not meet the department’s expectation for 24/7 back-up coverage and uninterrupted continuity of care …”

The independent hearing examiner, Mt. Vernon attorney William Kepko, listened to both sides Tuesday. Kepko told the Associated Press he will try to get his recommendation to Hodges as soon as possible.

Health Department spokeswoman Melanie Amato told the AP there is no deadline for the examiner’s report to be sent to Hodges, who will make the final determination.

A federal judge ruled the clinic can stay open during the appeal process.

Messages seeking comment left with Women’s Med and NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio were not returned by late Tuesday afternoon.

Several anti-abortion activists attended the hearing, including about 40 from the Dayton area, according to state Rep. Niraj Antani, R-Miami Twp.

“Those of us who take the side of the state believe that they were denied a variance twice now and therefore they should have their revoked,” Antani said. “Clearly, they’re not meeting the standard of care that is supposed to be met in a transfer agreement or in a variance.”

Antani, who said he attended most of the hearing, indicated that Branch said she may sue the state in common pleas court.

Abortion rights supporters have said the abortion clinics are being held to higher standards just to get them to close. Since 2010, eight such clinics have been shut down.

An Associated Press investigation in 2015 found aides to Republican Gov. John Kasich honed some of the 2013 provisions about 18 months before they emerged publicly, despite Kasich never attaching his administration to the proposals during the budget process.

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